My opinion is that fan experience starts at buying your ticket and isn’t finished until that person is home after attending the event.
Honda Indy Toronto
The interview with Jeff Atkinson was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as President for the Honda Indy Toronto. What does a typical day look like for you?
As the President of the Honda Indy Toronto, I am responsible for overseeing all aspects of the event including but not limited to sales, marketing, and operations of the event, on behalf of Green Savoree Toronto.
Green Savoree Toronto is owned by Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who together have won four IndyCar championships, three Indy 500 races and the 12 Hours of Sebring as race team principals.
The Toronto Indy has a 33-year history, and the event is very important for the City of Toronto to host annually.
The three-day event has a significant economic impact for the City, and it showcases the City, Province and Canada to a worldwide audience. In working in cooperation with Exhibition Place, our team turns the Exhibition Place grounds and Lake Shore Blvd. into a 2.89 km, 11-turn temporary racetrack for the stars and cars of Indianapolis 500 to compete annually.
Over the years, the Toronto Indy has hosted Canada’s best motorsports talent namely Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Greg Moore, Alex Tagliani, James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens and Andrew Ranger to name a few.
Not one day is ever the same and that is what makes each one and the responsibility of being the President of the Honda Indy Toronto exciting.
I find time in each day to connect with colleagues, partners, vendors, fans and festival-goers on many different platforms whether it be in-person meetings, video conference, phone calls or through social media. The more information that you can gather from those conversations, the more likely you will achieve the wishes of each partner and vendor while improving the event for fans and festival-goers, ultimately improving sustainability.
We’re lucky to have a great team of professionals who all share the common goal of improving and growing the event annually which make the long days much easier to navigate.
I noticed you are also the Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Green Savoree Racing Promotions. Tell us about it and how you find balance between the two.
My background is in sales and marketing after studying Sports Management. This is a role that I have held for a number of years prior to my promotion to President for Honda Indy Toronto.
Essentially, I lead all of our sales and marketing personnel throughout Green Savoree Racing Promotions which has offices in Toronto, Indianapolis, Ind., St. Petersburg, Fla., Portland, Ore. and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in North Central Ohio.
As a company, Green Savoree hosts eight major weekends each year promoting a diverse line up of motorsports including INDYCAR, NASCAR, IMSA sports cars, motorcycles, and other special events.
Given the number of events that we promote, it is very important to ensure success individually and as a team to achieve and exceed the goals set forth by the ownership and the leadership in each of the event markets.
Balance in my dual roles is achieved by understanding the business objectives and what’s most important to the company at the given time. Then, it’s a matter of breaking it down into tasks and prioritizing them daily to have successful time management.
What principles do you believe are most important in ensuring that the information provided to the media is consistent with the mission and vision of the Honda Indy Toronto? How do you achieve this?
Consistency and repetition in communication are paramount.
First and foremost, we believe the Honda Indy Toronto is not just a racing event; it is a festival on the annual summer events calendar in Toronto. We project this key message point in our news releases and press material, on our website and social media channels, as well as even through the professional racing drivers who are racing at speed on track and do interviews on behalf of the event.
This message gets delivered not only across these earned media channels but also on our owned and paid channels all consistently aligned together.
Describe your leadership style to me. What personality traits make a good leader?
My leadership style is very modern but features many traditional aspects. As the workforce evolves, you start to realize that what motivated individuals 5-10 years ago is not what necessarily motivates the next generation. Each person is motivated differently. What motivates one person does not necessarily mean that it will motivate others.
Given this, it’s very important to be a good communicator and part of communication is listening, which I believe is the most important leadership trait, as it provides a guide on how to motivate and lead each individual.
You have to be very proactive and check in with as many people as possible. I try to create many different conversation settings in both team and individual environments without taking away too much time that one requires to achieve success in their role. This helps you better understand the strengths and weakness of not only your colleagues, but yourself, and the event.
The more that you can connect with colleagues, providing them guidance and education, the easier difficult conversations become when they happen (and they will happen), and the more likely the individual will achieve greater personal success at Green Savoree Racing Promotions and/or Honda Indy Toronto or even in their future endeavours.
What are some tools that you and your team use to identify and develop new business opportunities for Green Savoree Toronto?
It’s important to be creative and innovative. The Toronto market is highly competitive. We compete against sporting events, festivals, movie theatres, food and beverage shows, etc… almost anything that requires someone’s time, free or for purchase, could be viewed as competition.
We believe in our product. We see many first-time festival-goers and corporate clients attend and they are mesmerized at the fun, excitement and opportunity of the Indy. We take these positive experiences and use them to attract corporate customers and grow our fan base.
If you listen to the feedback the fans and festival-goers provide through surveys and social media, many good ideas will result. Not all ideas or concepts are achievable, but they will get you to think and it challenges everyone to be better.
Commercially, you look at new ideas that may get an existing or new partner excited. Partners are simply not buying a logo on a track wall anymore. Expectations are much higher. Most partners want a comprehensive program that connects them directly with fans and festival-goers.
With our facility, almost anything is possible as its temporary and custom-built each year. If you have a story to tell, the data to support it, and a strategic partner who fits, it’s a win for everyone, especially the fans and festival-goers.
How do you see fan experience playing a role in the growth of the Honda Indy Toronto?
When I was named President of the Honda Indy Toronto following the conclusion of the 2015 event, fan experience became my mission as I felt that it was critical to our future success. I felt that we had a great show on-track, but we were missing something off-track.
As a team, together we worked on what we thought could be done, but under the reality that we couldn’t do everything in one year, and that we would have to focus our plan in annual stages. We wanted to be family-focused and that meant a complete overhaul.
To be clear, my opinion is that fan experience starts at buying your ticket and isn’t finished until that person is home after attending the event. For instance, we work closely with Toronto’s local transit authority Metrolinx to enhance the travel experience to and from as it has a GO Transit stop on the north edge on the festival grounds.
Since 2015, we have many updated highlights, including new websites and ticket purchasing experiences; partnered with Toronto’s Food Dudes to curate our food and beverage program; added children’s policies like 12 and under general admission complimentary access to the event, programming, activities and rest areas; creation of the Champions Club and Rookie Racers loyalty programs; improved our directional signage to help everyone especially our first-time customers get around the grounds; and added many more general viewing areas with videoboards providing all ticket holders with an opportunity to watch the on-track action.
As a result of these efforts, our partners have seen a significant return in their direct interaction with our fans and festival-goers improving customer satisfaction all round.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has removed the Honda Indy Toronto from the 2020 schedule, what can we expect to see from you and your team in the future? How are you planning on coming back and making the next event the best it can be?
Yes, we are off the schedule for now. However, like anything we do, we’re simply not “throwing in the towel” and are still exploring if an opportunity may present itself to run the 2020 race later in the year. If it does, we will present the opportunity to the stakeholders to determine if it’s viable.
At the same time, COVID-19 will create some new realities for future events and those realities are not exclusive to the Toronto Indy. Event organizers will have to follow the direction of the health professionals and will likely have to adapt to the new norm of creating a positive, safe environment for future attendees.
From a Honda Indy Toronto standpoint, we will continue to build off the success from our last five-year plan which we created in 2015. Now looking at a three-year plan, we are adjusting annually to the current environment. We’ve been fortunate to see success and growth over the past four years and will specifically want to add programs now for our fans who are in the age range of 13 to 17 years old.
On the operations side of our business, we continue to look at new ways to build the temporary racetrack and further limiting the impact on the City of Toronto. COVID-19 challenged us to look at our track build more thoroughly, and we believe that we have found some additional efficiencies to build our track more quickly while doing so safely. If possible, we hope to implement those findings in the future.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Since Jeff became President of the Honda Indy Toronto, he has introduced a number of new fan experience initiatives that have only made the event stronger. I admire his drive for success not only with the Honda Indy Toronto but with Green Savoree Racing Promotions. Although Jeff has plenty to focus on, he manages his time wisely in order to achieve success for each and every event he promotes. As of right now, the 2020 Honda Indy Toronto has been removed from the original schedule due to COVID-19. However, Jeff and his team are still working hard to make sure the creation of new realities will be up to health regulations while still engaging the fan experience. The Honda Indy Toronto is a spectacular event — I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Jeff and the Honda Indy Toronto!